Sadly, we see it all the time. It’s on the news. Public service announcements. Advertisements for charities. Abuse and injustice is so widespread in our world, it is overwhelming. Almost numbing because we don’t know what to do, how to help, or if our small action would even make a difference. I have seen it overseas in Uganda. My sister is faced with it every day in South Africa. But what about when it isn’t on the news? What about when it isn’t in a foreign land? What do we do when it is staring us right in the face?
This happened to me just a few days ago…
It was a normal Saturday, just knocking things off my task list. I had finished up several things at home (family first!), but then I had a few things to take care of for work. First up, gas up the church van. Just one of those random things you have to do when you work for a church. I finished pumping and waited for my receipt. Of course, the printer was out of paper and a message flashed on the screen, “See clerk for receipt.” Ok, no big deal. I am not in a hurry today. But as I was standing in line for my receipt, a noise caught my attention. Over by the coffee and drinks, a woman was loudly correcting a young boy.
Now, just so you know a little background to the story, here is my quick view of discipline. 1. I correct my children. 2. I correct my children in public because my child will never be “that kid” at Walmart. 3. We mostly deal in time outs, but I do give appropriate swats (spankings). 4. When I see a parent correcting their children in public, I am half tempted to go over and give them a high-five. I know we don’t always know the situation. But most of the time, teaching your children the correct way to act in public is a good thing.
Ok, back to the story… This lady was a little too loud. She was starting to make a scene right in the middle of the gas station. There were only a few of us in the store, but everyone was turning their heads that way at some point. This was more than correction or teaching. She was laying into him, raising her voice, yet in her own world. Then, she grabbed the back of this boys neck-probably about 8 or 9 years old-forcing him to bend over as she yelled at him. (I almost said something right there from across the store!) As soon as this happened, a police officer came in.
“Great,” I thought. “She will either chill out, leave, or the officer will witness this and say something.” The clerk handed me my receipt, but I didn’t want to leave, yet. I had not seen where the officer was at, so I made my way to the woman. I wasn’t sure what to do. So, I just stood there, roaming around the drinks, looking at my receipt like something super interesting was on there. Honestly, I would have looked like a complete idiot any other time. I paced back and forth, watching this woman. She was still raising her voice, “I’m gonna kill you! You hear me! I’m gonna kill you!” She said this with such anger and contempt!
At some point in her ranting, I was able to figure out she was the boys grandma. I quickly said a prayer: “Lord, I hope this boy doesn’t live with this woman, and that he has loving and nurturing parents at home that would be appalled by this!” I wasn’t sure what to do. Do I speak up? Do I confront her? In those moments, you have the strangest thoughts. At one point, I wondered if I was on one of those hidden camera shows you see on TV where they set up situations like this to see how people would react. Honestly, that is what I was hoping for, not so I could be on TV, but so I would know this wasn’t a real relationship between a grandma and her grandson. My second strange thought was back to my days working in Target in high school. I remembered they taught us that someone is much less likely to shoplift if store workers will engage them. That is why retail stores ask you if you need help a million times. I wondered if it was true to domestic abuse. I quickly noticed they had slowly moved away from her purse, that was sitting on the counter.
“Ma’am, you forgot your purse.”
I felt like an idiot. All of this going on, and that’s the best I came up with! She answered me – kindly, of course – and went on with getting her coffee. Things seemed to calm down a bit, and I hope my simple question (and stalking her for over 5 minutes as I fake-read my receipt) did a little to aid in that. I stood there, not knowing what more I could do. Do I say more? Do I confront her? I looked outside and saw three police SUV’s in the parking lot. That gave me an idea. I left the store and flagged down one of the officers.
I quickly explained the situation to the officer, including the red marks on his neck and the “I’ll kill you” statements. Here was the Trussville police officer’s reaction: “Yea, I heard her when I was in there. Some people are just jerks.”
I don’t like cussing, but I felt like this deserves a giant…
WHAT THE HELL?!?!
I didn’t know if I was more upset with the abusive woman or the apathetic police officer!
I have worked with kids for over 15 years. I have been a youth pastor, a case manager in a school, and worked at a residential facility for high-risk youth. I know the difference between abuse and a jerk. This lady wasn’t a jerk. She was a criminal!
As I was talking to the officer, the boy and his, um, “loving” grandma got in their car and pulled away. I thanked the officer and walked back to the church bus to go on with my day.
I felt sick to my stomach.
That was two days ago, and I am still not sure how I feel about the situation. Should I have done something different? More? What could I (should I) have done? Honestly, I think this is a story I will remember for a long time. I think I’ll still be processing this years from now. I can’t help but wonder what kind of home that boy goes to every day. Is it loving? Caring? Or is it hell?
In one way, I am proud of myself. No one else said or did anything, including the “serve and protect” police officer. But on the other hand, did I just stand there, making up excuses not to say anything or do more? I honestly don’t know.
[reminder]What would you do if you see injustice or abuse right in front of you? How would you react? What more do you think I could have done in this situation?[/reminder]